Dead Sea, salt lake, c.390 sq mi (1,010 sq km), extending c.45 mi (70 km) in the Jordan trough of the Great Rift Valley between the Ghor on the north and Wadi Arabah on the south, on the border between Israel and the West Bank (W) and Jordan (E). The shore of the Dead Sea, historically about 1,295 ft (395 m) below sea level but now some 100 ft (30 m) lower, is the lowest dry point on earth.
Situated between steep, rocky cliffs, 2,500 to 4,000 ft (762–1,219 m) high, the Dead Sea is divided by the Al Lisan peninsula into two basins—a larger northern basin now 1,240 ft (378 m) deep, and a smaller, shallow southern basin, now separated from the northern basin and divided into salt ponds. The lake is fed by the Jordan River and a number of small streams; it has no outlet. Because it is located in a very hot and dry region, the Dead Sea loses much water through evaporation; its level fluctuates during the year. Inflow has been greatly reduced by the increased use of the waters of the Jordan for irrigation, and that, along with the use of evaporation ponds to produce potash and other minerals, has led to falling water levels since the 1960s. A 2013 agreement by Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority involving regional water resources called for the lake to be replenished with the brine by-produced by a planned desalination plant at Aqaba, Jordan. In prehistoric times, the lake has been much larger, filling the entire Jordan trough from S of the Dead Sea to N of the Sea of Galilee as Lake Lisan some 25,000 years ago, and much smaller, perhaps completely dry, 120,000 years ago.
One of the saltiest water bodies in the world, the Dead Sea supports no life. It yields large amounts of mineral salts; potash and bromine are commercially extracted. The ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were on the southwestern shore; present-day Sodom is the site of mineral-salt extraction works. The Dead Sea coast in Israel and the West Bank is the site of beaches, spas, and tourist hotels. Biblical names for the salt lake include Salt Sea, East Sea, and Sea of the Plain.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.